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Smithson Trumps Snooki: New Jersey is State of the Art

Princeton gives Jersey its props, MoMA's Capital Exchange program drops, Cleveland rocks a mega-multi-touch-screen, and more museum news

Mocked for its distinctive iterations of low culture, New Jersey was in fact the incubator and inspiration for a great deal of cutting-edge postwar art.

Allan Kaprow, an Atlantic City native, staged some of his earliest Happenings in New Jersey. Robert Watts and George Brecht celebrated their Fluxus-inspired Yam Festival at New Jersey venues including George Segal’s farm. Nancy Holt led her Stone Ruin Tours in the woods of the northern part of the state, and explored the Pine Barrens on film. Robert Smithson’s first non-sites, Dan Graham’s Homes for America, and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting are all iconic New Jersey works.

All of these and more will be in a show opening this October at the Princeton University Art Museum that examines New Jersey’s unsung, seemingly counterintuitive but in retrospect stunningly obvious role in the avant-garde—in performance, land art, postmodernism, identity politics.


Curated by Kelly Baum, “New Jersey as Non-Site” will consider different reasons experimental artists were drawn to New Jersey: its sense of community, its suburbs, its polluted ruins, its pristine natural settings, to name some. For others, the state’s identity as transit corridor between larger cultural hubs was itself appealing. But what apparently attracted most was New Jersey’s lack of a strong identity—or, as the exhibition proposal puts it, its status as “a kind of non-place whose difference from the cosmopolitan center was simultaneously informative and revelatory.”

Robert Smithson, Non-Site: Line of Wreckage (Bayonne, New Jersey), 1968, painted aluminum, broken concrete; framed map and three photo panels.MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM, PURCHASE, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS MATCHING FUNDS. 

The other artists represented in the show are Amiri Baraka, John Cohen, George Brecht, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Gordon Matta-Clark, Dennis Oppenheim, Michelle Stuart, and Robert Watts.

Michelle Stuart, Sayreville Quarry History Book, 1976, earth from Sayreville, New Jersey, on muslin-mounted paper.PRINCETON UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUM. 

Arch Nemesis?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in New Jersey, LG Electronics Corporation USA is planning an Englewood Cliffs headquarters that would rise several feet above the Palisades tree line, prompting concerns that it would mar the view of the Cloisters. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wave Hill are among the groups that are asking LG to make the building lower.

Take this Turmeric Pill and Call Me in the Morning

Following instructions, dinner guests in MoMA’s Café 2 brandish placements made by Xaviera Simmons with a Guerrilla Girls image from the collections. PHOTOGRAPH BY PAULA COURT. COURTESY THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART. 

In a “dinner event” that had the structure, social-justice motifs, and symbolic cuisine of a Passover seder, mixed with the madcap vigor of a Magical Mystery Tour, the Museum of Modern Art launched its Capital Exchange program, a series of artist-staged participatory programs, guerrilla readings, and provocative performances intended to stimulate creativity and interaction. The evening, hosted by the Education Department in Café 2, began with an eyes-wide-shut Albariño toast and the collective downing of a single orange pill, which artist/activist Caroline Woolard assured us was turmeric powder. Then came a series of hybrid dishes developed by Raúl Cárdenas Osuna in collaboration with Chef Diego Becerra and MoMA’s Lynn Bound, each served on limited-edition placemats reproducing images selected by Xaviera Simmons from the museum’s library and archives (one was Yayoi Kusama’s 1969 unannounced nude performance in the sculpture garden). Later, Kenneth Goldsmith, the Ubuweb founder who has been dubbed the MoMA poet laureate, provided a discourse on Brion Gysin’s recipe for hash fudge, which became an unexpected legacy of Alice B. Toklas. The dessert, though, was Baked Alaska (a performance-art staple).

A similar spirit will infuse goings-on at the museum over the next few months, the organizers say, so look out for the Artist Experimenters in the galleries.

Passing the Bar

“Adult bookstore” video booth, a detail of Skylar Fein’s Upstairs Lounge.PHOTOGRAPH BY MIKE SMITH. COURTESY JONATHAN FERRARA GALLERY, NEW ORLEANS. 

On, Doug MacCash covers the New Orleans Museum of Art’s acquisition of “Remember the Upstairs Lounge,” a 90-piece art environment by New Orleans artist Skylar Fein that symbolically recalls a devastating 1973 fire in a crowded French Quarter gay bar. The haunting installation, which features imitation artifacts, photographs, video and a reproduction of the bar’s entrance, was first shown at the Contemporary Arts Center in 2008 during Prospect.1. The museum said it has no plans to install the work, though it hopes to travel it.

Home is Where the Art Is?

Some of Raleigh’s cultural and political leaders are floating the idea that 35 acres of land recently transferred to the North Carolina Museum of Art by the state could be transformed into a mixed-use “arts campus,” housing shops, apartments and possibly a hotel, according to The site would offer “superb design and architecture and sustainability, and all the best qualities of living in the 21st century,” museum director Larry Wheeler is quoted as saying. Could this herald a new era of museum as developer?

Cellulose Heroes

A new series on the Getty’s blog spotlights the painstaking alchemy that is the job of contemporary-art conservators. The challenge: an early Robert Mapplethorpe lidded box housing an altered snow globe along with a rabbit’s foot and a small red painted piece, encased in a nylon stocking and held in position by ribbons.

Suddenly, Next Summer

Rendering of CODA’s Party Wall, winning design of the 2013 Young Architects Program. The Museum of Modern Art and MoMAPS1.IMAGE COURTESY OF CODA. 

Architizer’s Lamar Anderson covers the winner of MoMA PS1’s 2013 Young Architects Program: Party Wall, Caroline O’Donnell’s steel structure clad in a porous façade made from castoffs of the eco-friendly skateboard manufacturer Comet and surrounded by a sequence of pools filled by a gravity-operated fountain. The wall comes with “detachable benches made from uncut skateboard misprints, whose arrangements will be managed by a team of spritely ‘pool boys’ wearing uniforms made by, who else, American Apparel,” Anderson reports.

Please Touch

As museums ponder ways to lure people from their little screens and social media apps to see some real art, the Cleveland Museum has a new strategy involving giant screens with lots of apps—with the express purpose, that is, of engaging with real objects in its collections. This week the museum debuted the largest multi-touch screen in the country, a 40-foot, super-interactive Collection Wall that displays over 3,500 objects from its holdings, offering opportunities for art-making, sharing, games, and the creation of individualized tours for devices like iPads.


Experts are calling the project “the most comprehensive educational use of popular computer technology by any art museum in the country,” reports Steven Litt on How long visitors spend looking at the art vs. the screens will be one gauge of the project’s success.

Salaam Mumbai

The BMW Guggenheim Lab ended its run in India, with a play created by young girls, a blindfold tour through Dharavi and the chawls of Mahim, a conversation with a scientist of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, and a number of ongoing projects that tackle issues like urban planning, privacy, and more.

Ruffs in Golden-Age Holland

Wenceslaus Hollar, after Adriaen Jacobz Matham, A Poodle, 1649.GIFT OF JAMES WELLS. 

The Art Institute of Chicago takes its canine collections very seriously.

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Which in museums is fake. So we should make them more real–in a Museum of the False. Xiaoyu Weng’s modest proposal in SFMoMA’s Open Space blog.

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